7 of Bishop Sheen’s Best Quotes To Help You Prepare For Christmas
Venerable Fulton Sheen is an American bishop who reached an international audience in the mid-twentieth century via his television show, radio, preaching, writing and mission work. His work impacted countless modern saints-- St. Theresa of Calcutta required that her sisters read his book Life of Christ during Advent; Pope St. John Paul II called him “a loyal son of the Church.”
He is on the road to canonization and was scheduled to be beatified on December 21. However, the Diocese of Peoria announced that his beatification would be delayed for further investigation in the wake of the New York Attorney General’s ongoing investigation relating to dioceses in the state hiding clerical abuse. Bishop Sheen has never been accused of abusing a minor, but since he was a bishop during the time where most reports are emerging in the wake of these scandals, the Vatican requested that the Diocese of Peoria postpone the beatification.
Regardless, Bishop Sheen is a holy man who we can turn to for inspiration during this joyous Advent season and leading into Christmas. He loved being a priest, he loved the Church, he loved the Lord, and he loved our Blessed Mother (he dedicated every book he wrote to her.)
With this in mind, let us reflect with Bishop Seen on the miraculous birth of our Lord during this busy season.
1. No Room At the Inn
But when finally the scrolls of history are complete, down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be: “There was no room in the inn.”...The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there's no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored and the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God made man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door.
When we look at sacred art and our nativity scenes at home, they are clean. Mary’s robes fall over her legs without a single wrinkle, Joseph looks like he just got home from the barber, the shepherds’ clothes are clean, Jesus’ diaper is perfectly white.
But the reality of Christmas night was that the images we are accustomed to seeing are far from the truth. Christ was born into a mess.
Mary delivered him in a stable after a four day long (maybe more) journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. After I travel, I always want to take a hot shower and watch a cheesy rom-com before I unpack. But Mary had no rest.
Joseph probably had a long day of trying to negotiate with innkeepers to let them stay in their inns. I imagine Joseph as a more introverted type (he has no spoken words recorded in scriptures) so as an introvert, that sounds exhausting.
The shepherds were out in the pastures all day among the mud and manure of their flock. They probably were thinking of cozying up to the fire with a warm beverage until the angels appeared.
Christ’s birth was not clean. It was not picturesque. And yet, it was exactly how God intended it.
2. The 2 Births of Christ
There are two births of Christ, one unto the world in Bethlehem; the other in the soul, when it is spiritually reborn. Men think of the former much more than the later, and celebrate it every year; but the spiritual Bethlehem is equally momentous…. It was the second birth that Saint Paul insisted on when he wrote from prison to his beloved people, the Ephesians, asking that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith and that they be rooted and grounded in love. This is the second Bethlehem, or the personal relationship of the individual heart to the Lord Christ.
“Have you been born again?” it’s a common question that we often hear from other Christian brethren. While their theology might be slightly off, the root of their question is noble, has Jesus Christ been born into your heart? When we know and love Jesus, our lives are transformed.
Just as history is literally divided in two between B.C (before Christ), and A.D (anno domini - Year of our Lord) when Christ was born, so too should there be a very clear division in our life between the time that we did not have a personal relationship with him and the day that we accepted him as such.
3. True Mark of Humility
Exiled from the earth, our Lord is born under the earth, for the stable was in a cave. He was the first caveman of recorded history, and there he shook the earth to its very foundations. Because he’s born in a cave, all who wish to see him must be bend, must stoop, the stoop is the mark of humility. The proud refuse to stoop. Therefore they miss divinity. Those, however, who are willing to risk bending their egos to go into that cave, find that they are not in a cave at all; but they are in a universe where sits a babe on his mother’s lap, the babe who made the world.
At the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional site where Jesus was born, the entrance to the church is the Door of Humility, a small rectangular entrance that was created to prevent carts being driven in by looters. But, an additional benefit was that it forced even the vainest of visitors to dismount his horse as he entered the holy place (apparently this was a problem in the Middle Ages? Hmmm…)
In order to enter through the door, you have to crouch or bow, shimmy your way through, then as you rise, you behold the beauty of the Basilica. It is a reminder to us all that just as God as man encountered the world for the first time as a simple, humble baby, we too must bring that same humility as we encounter Jesus ourselves.
4. Gift of the Magi
The Magi came from the East...and they brought gold because he was king, incense because he was priest, but also myrrh. That’s the way he was buried, with a hundred pounds of spices and myrrh. What would our mother’s have thought if the neighbors brought in embalming fluid when we were born? Everywhere, there was a shadow of suffering.
I really dislike the song, “Mary Did You Know.” I know a lot of people in older generations think it’s a beautiful song of Our Blessed Mother ponder the face of our Lord, but Mary knew scripture. She knew what it meant to carry the Messiah who would suffer, die and rise.
All of us are born to live, love and serve the Lord in this earth to love him in the next. Jesus Christ is the only man who was born in order to die. That’s a heavy burden to lay on a mother’s heart.
Between the Magi bringing myrrh for his burial, to Simeon’s prophecy in the temple during the presentation, it would be enough for any woman to pack up and move to Montanna to escape any harm that would befall her child.
But Mary trusted the Lord and did not fall to despair. Her “Fiat” -- her yes -- echoed all the way to the cross.
5. A Backward Life
The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the person of Christ, however, it was his death that was first and his life that was last. The Scripture describes him as “the Lamb slain as it were, from the beginning of the world.” He was slain in intention by the first sin and rebellion against God. It was not so much that his birth cast a shadow on his life and thus led to his death; it was rather that the Cross was first, and cast its shadow back to his birth. His has been the only life in the world that was ever lived backward…from the reason of his coming manifested by his name “Jesus” or “Savior” to the fulfillment of his coming, namely, his death on the Cross.
It is irritating how little detail St. Luke gives of the birth of Jesus. He gives a lot of information relating to the events leading to and events after his birth. But all that St. Luke says “She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
The modern equivalent is “she gave birth to a son and dressed him in a onesie.” But I want to know the details! How much did he weigh? How long was he? Does he have Mary’s nose? Did he latch easily? Did he sleep through the night?
But Luke was very intentional about putting few details in about Our Lord’s birth, especially because it made his death a more perfect bookend. The next time we see any details in Luke’s Gospel relating to the clothes Christ wears and where he was placed, is in the second to last chapter, “Then he [Joseph of Arimathea] took Him down, and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb.”
Just as Jesus was laid in a manger in a cave at his birth, he was laid in a cave at his death. Even Christmas night was prefiguring his eventual sacrifice for our sake.
6. Never Expected
God walks into your soul with silent step. God comes to you more than you go to Him. Never will his coming be what you expect, and yet never will it disappoint. The more you respond to his gentle pressure, the greater will be your freedom.
In the midst of despair, it’s hard to understand where and how God is working in your life. But he is always on the move. He is always thinking about you and loving you, even when you are not.
I’ve struggled with the question of “Lord! Where are you?!” in times of despair, but when the storm dies down, I see his work clearly. After doing that whole song and dance a few times, I started writing down those moments. I keep a journal and when the waters start to rise again, I read it to see how God was moving. Then I see more clearly how he is working in my life even now.
And he has never abandoned or forsaken me through it all.
7. Silent Night
One silent night, out over the white-chalked hills of Bethlehem, came a gentle cry. The great ones of the earth did not hear it, for they could not understand how an Infant could be greater than a man. At the Christ Child’s birth, only two groups of people heard the cry: the Shepherds, who know they know nothing, and the Wise Men, those who know they do not know everything. The very simple, the very learned ...Never the man who thinks that he knows everything.”
Humility. It is a core virtue that we must attain, but often the most lacking and understood. Without humility, we are unable to see the face of God, because he humbled himself in order to walk among us.
Only the humble of heart saw the face of God on Christmas night. Kings and priests didn’t line up at the mouth of the cave he was born in order to adore him. Only those with eyes to see him.
Many of Fulton Sheen's programs are still available online. Here's a great Christmas reflection from Bishop Sheen that you might enjoy watching.